On-air online

Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Being a journo in this day and age is not always easy. Except for the instant search abiltity with Google and much lighter equipment, advances in technology mixed with the "traditional" pursuit of news journalism can be confusing. 

At kval.com our administrator uses the commenting feature on our stories.  That means, anyone in the world-wide-web can post an opinion, insults, threats and lies in the small section after our stories.  You don't know who they are and their accounts are verfied by an email that may not be tied to a real person.

This is new territory.

As a television news journalist at KVAL, I'm required to post my story on our website, with my name and video of the piece.  There's no protection against people telling me my work is "crap" and that I am "ignorant and inexperienced" and "trash."  Ouch.  Constructive criticism is important and I always respond to viewer emails but this goes past that. 

I guess with the changing face of journalism (online stories), we will have to defend our work to people who hide behind usernames.  I feel it is much more difficult for on-air folks.  The anons know where to find us and the hours we work because they see us on the tube every night.  There's a different connection with a face on TV than a by-line and an email address.

Newspaper and AP wire writers typically do not put their face and voice on their stories.  Sometimes there's no name at all but instead something like "AP Staff."  It is harder for anons to rage against "staff" but they seem to almost enjoy going after someone they think they know. 

The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene doesn't allow commenting on their news stories (they do on opinion pieces) and another weekly paper in town has no commenting online but allows editorials.  Maybe that's the route to go.  However, the other TV stations in town do allow commenting for most stories.

Where's the line between operating as a television product and a web/blog product?  Maybe there isn't much of a line anymore.  So should on-air folks be more discreet in sharing their identity online?

You might be wondering, what is she going on about?

This week my three part series on homelessness in downtown Eugene is airing during our 6 and 11 o'clock broadcasts.  People can call in to voice their thoughts on my reports but mostly we get feedback through email and online.  If you'd like to read and watch part one click here.  If you'd like to read and watch part two click here.

I've recieved good comments (via email): 

I wonder if you could pass on to the news team my compliments on the amazing reporting they did last night on homelessness in the downtown area. The reporter handled a potentially difficult situation with professionalism and aplomb. It was an eye-opening look at something most of us don’t want to look at.  -Cheryl

I've recieved bad comments (via online posting):

I don't believe you have any place calling yourself a journalist. More a trash TV artist. Go cover celebrity news, where exploitation is the norm.  -kvalblows (username)

One commenter online even said that I had purchased beer for a homeless person.  Another said that I was reporting from a completely different part of town. Another alluded that I was signed up on Eharmony.com (a dating service).  All untrue!

But what can I do?  Post another comment as myself and say, "Thanks for your comments, sir, and for watching KVAL News but the things you are saying are not true."  It's not going to matter and I feel it is unfair. 

Maybe there is no "fair" in being a member of the media anymore.  We cannot combat anonymous lies or insults that have nothing to do with the report on web stories unless there is some type of intelligent moderation.

Solutions?  Grow thicker skin!   Only do soft reports!  Don't read the comments!   But, if I don't read the comments and anonymous readers trash me, who's going to care or do something about it?  Not one person - except me. 

The web can be a terrifying place when you are a face of a televison news station, reporting on controversial matters and you have to fight your own battles.


idoremus said...

Denae, I think you do a great job both as an on air personality and a journalist. I don't think many people know what it takes to do your job. I also really dislike the cowardly trash-talkers that hide in their anonymity. Keep doing what you are doing, the silent majority of your viewers are more enlightened because of your broadcasts.

Anonymous said...

I know I have seen you buying beer for homeless people many times. Kidding!

I like the way the New York Times does their website comments. The author of the story acts as a "moderator" of sorts and must approve comments before they are seen. I am sure it is just an intern reading everything, but it seems to work. They post both the complimentary and critical comments, but things like "You are a terrorist" "You are a communist" "Palin rules, Obama drools" and even "You are awesome!" don't make the cut. You have to have a constructive comment or you don't get to comment at all.
An example of the technique used was an article they did on the payment disparity of prostate cancer treatments. Interesting article - but not written by a physician. I wrote a relatively critical comment that was very specific. That made it onto the page. Had I written "You know nothing about health care!," I probably wouldn't have had the same success.

Just my two cents.


Tina L. Hook said...

It seems like anonymous comment forums are becoming outlets for the emotional diarrhea of all the bitterly unhappies in the world. Folks should have to register to leave comments. I completely understand your trepidation.

I think it is important to understand that people's extreme actions/comments usually have more to do with them than you. They are showing the world who THEY are, not who YOU are. I say take the high road and don't waste any energy on it. Intelligent, emotionally stable readers/viewers will understand exactly what is going on.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, everytime I post something to the web I cringe at what sort of comments I may or may not get off of it.
I think your Downtown Solutions Series is some of the best journalism our market has done, especially with the upcoming forum.
I also think that the people who post on our stories, are only those who feel strongly about it, either positive or negative. So you are going to get the extremes from both ends.
I personally feel that "anon commenters" should not be allowed anywhere.
One of the most depressing things you can do is go to one of the national news organizations websites and read some of the comments people post. It is incredibly disheartening that these are real* live people who are writing them.

Denae said...

Thanks for your comments, friends. This is a new wave in media's changing faces.

I'm feeling better about things after a conversation with my managers today. This is part of the process of online reporting.

Ted Stryk said...

Have you read the comments on youtube? The internet is full of trolls who post with the sole purpose of inflaming. Plus you have right and left wing extremists.

There is a place for critical posting. For example, one local TV station posted a very negative article about the fact that we were "offering a major in alternative medicine." After identifying myself by name and as college faculty, I stated that we offer no such major and that the "faculty member" and "students" that they interviewed were not in any way affiliated with the college (nor had they ever been). The story was quickly retracted). I got an e-mail apology (they must have looked me up on the college website to see if I was a real person).
One poster mentioned letting the journalist moderate. I think a compromise solution will be this. Give the author full power to moderate anonymous or unverified comments. However, if one is willing when setting up one's account to provide enough information to verify one's identity and allow their real name to be posted with the comments, then only allow management to remove posts in extreme circumstances. I don't think many of the people you are describing would post what they are posting if they had to put their real name with it.

Anonymous said...


i work in the same business you do...and am subject to the same slings and arrows. but the next time your newsroom (or you) do a story which disparages someone based on "unnamed sources" (happens nearly every day in every newsroom in America) will you tell the newsdirector "it's not fair to criticize this person unless we name the source of the information"?

thick skin is required in media

(formal KVALer)

LizP said...

It's easy for people to criticize but it is hard for people to give counsel. Listen to the people who are walking your path, not the ones on the sidelines throwing stones! Someone above suggested moderated comments - that's what the SF Chronicle does. Helps keep the trolls at bay.

I thought your piece was well done. People criticize the media for over-editing news then when you run something unedited you get flak. You can't win.

Here's my opinion - Homelessness is a money issue. Companies don't have the money to hire. Governments don't have the money to house people with mental issues or create enough jail beds. There are those groups of people who want to fund every social program on the plant - yet there is not enough money. There are those groups who want to cut all social programs, which would just create larger problems. I don't think anyone has an all encompasing solutions and we just have to chip away at things where and when we can.

This is way too philosophical for a Thursday morning :-)

Denae said...

Hi Lars (not sure who you are),
Are you thinking of another TV station? KVAL doesn't do stories using "unnamed sources."

stevelidstrom said...

So I ended up here because of the OMC link. Just thought I'd throw in my cents on this since it's a topic I'm always intrigued by. I'm not quite sure why people care so much about anonymous commenters. 99% of the time you don't know who the people are anyway. So lets say the comment is from Joe Smith, or Susie Jones, it really doesn't make any difference. And that's if the name given is even real to begin with. Comments left on the web are nothing more than comments. If what someone says has substance it'll make you think about what you've done. If they say something completely false, you don't give it any thought. Who published the comments doesn't matter. Sometimes it's viewers, sometimes it's co-workers, other times it might be other people in the business. But what's said either has validity or it doesn't. It seems like people get caught up in wanting to know names, but how would that really help? I think once people accept that premise. it makes the on-line world much easier to deal with.

Denae said...

I've gotten so much interesting feedback on this from friends and members of the media. Thank you for your comments and opinions and suggestions on ways to cope. Your input means so much to me!